Born in San Antonio but raised in Cedar Park, a suburb outside of the City of Austin, O’Hanlon describes her hometown as “leaning Republican and homogenously white.” As the daughter of Mexican-American and Irish parents and raised in a Catholic household, O’Hanlon said her environment wasn’t synonymous with her identity. In fact, Cedar Park made national news when a local high school was reprimanded for unsportsmanlike behavior displayed during a sporting event; the home team fan section dressed up as construction workers during a game facing a team with majority Hispanic players. O’Hanlon had always been interested in immigrant and worker’s rights due to the influence of her welito (grandfather) who was a construction worker. To say the least, this incident of bigotry at the sporting event sparked O’Hanlon’s interest to advocate for others.
The influence of O’Hanlon’s Catholic upbringing inspired her drive to serve. “One of the main tenants of Catholicism is faith through good works,” O’Hanlon said, “which pushed me towards public service. It is my responsibility to advocate for those less fortunate than me.” Her mother, a Mexican-American or Chicana, also influenced O’Hanlon to serve others, especially in Latinx communities. O’Hanlon’s mom always pushed her and her sister to be independent, bold, and unapologetic – diverging from what O’Hanlon described as “Latin culture that can sometimes be steeped in machismo.” O’Hanlon’s mother also exposed her to politics for the first time bringing O’Hanlon with her to vote while she was still a child. O’Hanlon remembers feeling that voting was a high-class activity as a child and was excited to stand in the booth with her mother as she voted.
Little did O’Hanlon know that her experience with voting as a child would lead her to a lifelong dedication to civic engagement. When O’Hanlon began attending the University of Texas, she immediately became involved with the Senate of College Councils, a governing entity on campus that focuses on the academic experiences of students. During her time in the Senate, O’Hanlon advocated for disenfranchised communities, specifically passing legislation focused on accessibility. It was O’Hanlon’s desire to advocate for marginalized communities that drew the Guneez & Hannah campaign team to her; knowing of her experience in Senate, the team asked O’Hanlon to be their campaign manager. At first, O’Hanlon was wary of taking on the role of campaign manager for a UT Student Government Executive Alliance ticket due to her lack of experience. After realizing, however, that women far too often pass up leadership roles because of fear, she accepted the position, knowing that her ideals aligned with the campaign’s goals.
The Guneez & Hannah Executive Alliance Campaign focused on uplifting marginalized communities. As a resident of Austin for most of her life, O’Hanlon noticed how the impact of gentrification affected minority communities around the city, specifically in the Riverside neighborhood. Riverside is home to lower-income students and families who are drawn to the affordable costs of the neighborhood. These communities are now under the threat of redevelopment plans, leaving lower-income and marginalized students with nowhere to live. O’Hanlon knew the campaign could do something to prevent these redevelopments from happening, saying “the University absolutely has the ability to advocate for [its] students.” The Guneez & Hannah Campaign planned to bring reasonable transportation and infrastructural changes to the campus. The campus community, however, did not meet the efforts of O’Hanlon’s campaign team with acceptance.
College students across the state of Texas followed the University of Texas Student Government elections this year on social media, where much of the election drama took place. Remarkably, The Guneez & Hannah Executive Alliance ticket faced off in not one but three different elections: a general election, a recall election, and a runoff election. This phenomenon occurred after the Guneez & Hannah Campaign was targeted by an opposing alliance ticket on social media, sifting through one of the candidate’s Twitter favorites to find a displeasing Tweet from years ago. O’Hanlon not only had to serve as campaign manager but also had to fill the role of risk management, dealing with discrimination and violent acts from campus constituents and fellow candidates alike. Despite O’Hanlon and the rest of the team’s efforts, after three rounds of voting spanning over a month, the Guneez & Hannah Executive Alliance ticket did not come out victoriously. This, however, has not prevented O’Hanlon from spurring change on her campus.
O’Hanlon hopes to transform the way elections take place on the UT campus. In particular, she wants to end the rampant gender discrimination against candidates. During the campaign, a candidate from the Guneez & Hannah ticket and a candidate from the top opposing executive alliance ticket received similar charges for social media election violations. While the Guneez & Hannah candidate received a sanction of 9 hours, the opposing executive alliance candidate, who also happened to be an Anglo-American male, received a 4-hour sanction. O’Hanlon feels that the team was discriminated against because of her candidate’s gender and ethnicity, citing that the governing board that distributed the sanctions had no specific reason for the difference in sanctions. This lead O’Hanlon to recognize the systemic barriers women in politics face across all levels of government – even student government.
O’Hanlon advises any young woman interested in politics to keep pushing no matter what, saying “Sometimes it is painful and unfair. But all of the contributions you make will impact someone down the line.” O’Hanlon hopes that after the results of this most recent election, her university will take notice and transform the status quo of the campus. She says, “it is unfair that women have to be so resilient. It starts with redefining institutions and the rules associated.”
Julia O’Hanlon graduates from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2019. She was recently accepted to the Archer Fellowship Program and will intern in Washington, D.C. in the Spring.